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AFSCME files suit in health, human services dispute

December 23, 2010
By Deb Gau

MARSHALL - A labor dispute involving the consolidation of area health and human services agencies is headed into court next week, court documents filed in Lyon County said. Council 65 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public health and human services employees in Lyon and neighboring counties, is alleging violations of state labor laws in the consolidation process. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for Dec. 29.

The complaint, filed Dec. 17 in Lyon County District Court, alleges that Lincoln, Lyon and Murray Human Services and Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Public Health violated labor statutes in its treatment of employees during the merger process. The complaint alleges that administration refused to recognize existing labor agreements, among other violations, and that one longtime employee was terminated for questioning new personnel policies.

Lincoln, Lyon and Murray Human Services and Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Public Health are set to dissolve at the end of the year and form a combined agency, Southwest Health and Human Services. In November, employees of the two existing agencies were given letters offering them their positions in SWHHS and outlining their benefits and terms of employment.

The complaint alleges that one LLMHS employee interpreted the conditions of employment to mean that administration was bargaining with her as an individual and not with the union. The employee wrote a note on her employment offer saying that she did not agree to language in part of the personnel policies and terms of employment, which included statements that the SWHHS joint governing board reserved the right to change benefits and personnel policies, the complaint alleges. The employee then received notice that she was being terminated for not accepting the job offer, the complaint alleges.

The complaint also alleges that employees were offered employment conditions at SWHHS that were "considerably less favorable" than current conditions. The "less favorable" conditions included reductions in vacation accrual hours and medical leave, severance pay, loss of seniority, and loss of "gap" insurance for LLMHS employees.

LLMHS and LLMPH currently have separate sets of personnel policies and have two separate labor agreements with AFSCME. Changes in benefits going into the new SWHHS agency would differ, depending on which current agency employees work for.

The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services has issued a maintenance of status quo order for employees of the new SWHHS agency.

The area public health and human services boards approved paying out accrued vacation, compensatory time and other benefits for employees at meetings last week. During Dec. 15's meeting of the LLMHS board, LLMHS and LLMPH director Christopher Sorensen said that with a maintenance of status quo order in place for employees, all that could be done during the merger was to follow existing termination policies. Those policies include payment of accrued benefits.

The AFSCME complaint requests a court order preventing LLMHS and LLMPH from terminating employees, cashing out employee benefits or implementing terms of employment other than those outlined in existing labor agreements, until the dispute is resolved. The complaint also requests that the terminated LLMHS employee be hired back, and that LLMHS and LLMPH pay court costs and damages.



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